Who was Pan in Greek Mythology?
PAN was the son of the messenger god Hermes. As the Greek god of the mountainside, sheep and goats’ pastures, he was a goat-horned and goat-legged creature. Pan was primarily associated with Acardia, the mountainous state in central Peloponnese. He was playful and energetic but very irritable, especially if disturbed during his afternoon nap.
Our word “panic” derives from this aspect of his divinity. His worship spread from Acardia to Athens immediately after the Athenian and Plataean victory over the Persians at Marathon in 480 BC because he made the Persians flee in panic. He rendered a similar service for Zeus during the battle against Cronus and the Titans. His conch deeply worried Zeus’ opponents.
There are many powerful and iconic gods and goddesses in Greek mythology. Sadly, they tend to hog the limelight and stories of the lesser gods and deities are sometimes swept under the rug and almost forgotten.
An excellent example of this is Pan, the god of the wild. He frequently features in literature and artwork, but he’s not considered one of the major gods of ancient Greece. Some of you may even be more familiar with the creature from the film Pan’s Labyrinth than Pan depictions in Greek mythology.
Although the creature in the movie is not Pan, their appearances are similar. It could be Pan’s association with nature and wildlife that causes his appearance to differ from the other gods.
His upper body was just like that of a man, but he also had the lower half of a goat, along with horns—a combination that we’ve now come to refer to as a form.
Many consider Pan to be one of the oldest gods in Greek mythology. His association with nature, wooded areas and pasture lands are where his name is derived from.
The Worship of Pan
Pan was first worshipped in the rustic rural areas, far from the large, populated cities, meaning that there were no prominent temples or monuments built to worship him. The worship of Pan instead took place in nature, commonly in caves and grottoes, with his most avid followers been shepherds and hunters.
It was pretty commonplace for shepherds and herdsmen to sacrifice a portion of their cattle in the name of Pan. When it came to offerings made in his name, Pan enjoyed vases and all kinds of pottery, but it was known that he had a particular taste for grasshoppers coated in gold.
Pan’s Lineage and Birth
The exact lineage of Pan is uncertain, with some accounts of him being the son of Hermes and others claiming that he was the son of Zeus. In some stories, his mother was Penelope, wife to the hero Odysseus.
Despite his parents’ identity being a mystery, the story of Pan’s birth remains the same.
When Pan was born, his mother was so distressed by his unusual appearance that she ran away, abandoning Pan. He was later found and taken to Mount Olympus, where he would become a favourite of the gods.
Like many other gods and goddesses, Pan had a host of attributes that set him apart from human beings. He was capable of running long distances in a short time, without suffering fatigue, and in some accounts, he could even teleport himself to Mount Olympus and back.
He also possessed immersed strength and was immortal. Pan is often depicted as having a playful and almost trickster-like sense of humour. Coupled with his ability to transform objects into different forms, he would often entertain himself with mischievous schemes and plans.
When he wasn’t up to no good, Pan would spend the rest of his time chasing the nymphs through the forest, attempting to seduce them. They would often flee because of his unconventional appearance, and in many of the old stories, Pan was considered ugly.
Pan and Music
There is a story about a particular wood-nymph that Pan took a liking to because she was the most beautiful in all the forest. She rejected all of Pan’s advances and took refuge among her sisters, who transformed her into a reed.
Unsure which reed she had been transformed into, Pan took a handful of them, each of different sized and joined them together. He began to blow, producing a melody that captivated all around him, and thus, the pan flute was created, forever named after its creator.
He was considered to have an affinity for music and was often shown alongside his instrument. Pan was a frequent companion to Dionysus, the god of wine. With wine and music going hand-in-hand, these two were essentially ancient drinking buddies.
“Panic” from Pan
The word ‘panic’ is believed to have derived from Pan. His menacing voice frightened anyone unfortunate enough to stumble upon him. There is a tale of war where a hold of giants marched upon Mount Olympus and the gods.
It is said that Pan’s shout was so overwhelming that when they heard it, the Giants began to panic and fled. This thus aids the gods in their eventual victory.
Over the years, Pan has been a symbol of nature and the wild, the ancient mystery of the forest. He shows no interest in accumulating power, as many of the other gods. Instead, he is a free-spirited individual, boisterous and lustful, and he’d rather partake in activities that we expect from humans—listening to music, drinking wine, and just having a good time.
There is no doubt that Pan is an entertaining character, and much like nature, he’s unpredictable and at times frightening, which makes him so interesting.
Image Sources: Getty Images,Pascal Quidault.